Joey Craska faced live hitters.
He threw his fastball, 12-6 curveball and a slurve that’s turning into more of a slider for strike after strike.
He felt good.
The Mars senior right-hander was supposed to be doing all of those things as a pitcher for the Planets this spring.
The coronavirus pandemic had other plans.
Undaunted, Craska went out and threw as much as he could anyway, trying to stay sharp, trying to keep his arm loose and lively in case there was baseball to be played.
But there was none.
“I’ve been trying to throw outside the whole time,” Craska said. “I want to be ready when the time came.”
It wasn’t always easy. It was a challenge sticking to a throwing regimen, honing a craft that Craska didn’t know when he could use.
The time finally came in late May.
Craska took to the hill for Performance Velocity Systems, a data-driven baseball development facility in Pittsburgh. He was in New Castle, though, with PVS for the first time since COVID-19 put a pause to everything.
Craska said he was nervous. He didn’t know what to expect once the numbers started rolling in.
“I was prepared for anything,” Craska said. “If the numbers weren’t what I was hoping for, I was ready to go back out and work harder.”
Craska, though, was pleasantly surprised. His fastball hit 91.3 mph on the gun with a spin rate of 2,500 RPMs — the average for a Major League pitcher’s fastball is 2,300 RPMs.
Craska struck out the first five live batters he faced before someone made contact against him.
That someone? His brother, Petey.
“He finally got one in play off of me,” Joey Craska joked.
Craska threw 30 pitches.
It was his first live outing since Oct. 15, 2019.
“That’s the longest break I’ve had in my life,” Craska said. “I woke up at 8 a.m. (the day of the pitching session), I was so excited. It was a good day.”
Craska will pitch next year at New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, N.J. Craska doesn’t know if there will be a fall season there because that area is currently a coronavirus hotspot.
He will, though, pitch this summer in the Youngstown Class B Baseball League.
“Ohio is back up and we’ll be following all the CDC guidelines to get back on the field,” Craska said.
Craska said there has been one big silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic. He and some other players he knows have been able to get out and work on their skills, dedicating time to the finer things.